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Wildlife: Forest Survival hands-on

Wildlife: Forest Survival makes one believe that there is an under-served demographic of tweens with a penchant for deathmatch gameplay. Of course publisher EA has a much larger audience in mind for this DLC rendition of the survival of the fittest. The game lets you play as a soaring hawk, a menacing alligator, an agile fox or a bunny rabbit, and they're all out to kill each other.

Despite its casual look and simplified take on ecosystems, Wildlife does not rely on a rock-paper-scissors format that some might assume. Foxes can eat hawks and vice versa for example. Just don't expect a rabbit to survive against a gator.

Actually, there's no one who can take on a gator, but you can still get the last laugh even in death. By eating a poisonous red pepper power-up, anyone who eats you loses points while you earn points toward your total session score. There are also green peppers that provide a temporary speed boost, allowing you to escape dangerous situations.

How does a rabbit keep up with the more traditionally aggressive animals? It attempts to do so by eating defenseless carrots. A single vegetable does not yield a lot of points, but there are quite a few of them on the map and that can add up a lot to the total score.

The animal variety means to appeal to different player types and asymmetrical gameplay, when done well, is always interesting. You can tell that EA looks to ambitiously go beyond the standard deathmatch format where everyone has equal access to the same weapons and skills.

What everyone does have is a simple control scheme. The left stick takes care of movement while A/X (360/PS3) defaults to jumping and X/Square is for attacking and eating.

Our hands-on time with the game placed our fierce free-for-all in one of Wildlife's more watery environments. This swamp proved to be very advantageous for the alligator. As a fox, we made the mistake of getting too close to the water and ended up getting eaten by the well-hidden reptile more than once. The vibrant color palette of blue skies and lush green grass makes the kill-or-be-killed experience that much more twisted. If EA took it a step further and gave the animals unnaturally large eyes, you'd think this was some warped Disney game. Wildlife's seven other natural arenas include a cliffside, a muddy area, and an arid locale.

As the hawk has the most control over the air and the alligator dominates the water, the fox gets to use the land to its stealthy advantage. Our favorite sneaking spots were the hallowed-out logs, one of which was positioned on an incline and gave us a fighting chance in leaping towards unsuspecting hawks for the kill. The same land-based advantages could be said for the rabbits, except they give away their scent in the form of a purple trail that the fox can see. This definitely helped in placing us and the other foxes in the top spots on leaderboards during these sessions.

With a spring 2011 release for both Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, EA should have enough time to balance out this deathmatch gateway drug. As of right now, things do not bode well for the bunny.

Jan 18, 2011